The Pilot Shortage Pendulum Swing at the Major Airlines

Max Groundings, the Coronavirus, and the Impact to Pilot Hiring

We are just days away from the one year anniversary of the 737 Max groundings – an event that has dragged on much longer than anyone could have anticipated – and now the Coronavirus is encroaching on the US. These two events combine to keep pilot hiring in a very fluid state at all the major airlines.

We expected 2020 to be a huge year for pilot hiring with approximately 4600 pilots needed between American, Delta, Southwest, and United; however, with the Max out of the schedule through at least June, and the unknown impact of the Coronavirus, that number will certainly be significantly lower.

This is an unprecedented situation for the airline industry. The airlines are doing their best to prepare for all scenarios. The approximate 3-month lead time it would take to get the Max in the air from the date it is approved to fly again keeps the planning and resource management teams’ workloads doubled. Once the Max is cleared, pilots will be required to do additional training, the schedule will need to be adjusted, and airlines will need to hire rapidly. Southwest, United, and American are all operating in an overstaffed situation to allow them to quickly bring into training as many pilots as possible while keeping the operations running smoothly. This will enable them to swiftly ramp up once the all clear is given by the FAA. Nevertheless, the Max will remain out of the schedule until at least July, and this rolls each month that passes without certification.

Southwest has not yet cancelled flights due to the Coronavirus, but American and Delta have reduced or suspended service to numerous destinations, and United has cut domestic flights by 10% and international flights by 20%. United has also parked many of their wide body aircraft and is upgauging on many domestic routes. JetBlue also cut capacity by 5%.

United Airlines cancelled their March classes and is not planning on holding more until July at the earliest. Southwest Airlines is targeting new hire classes again beginning in July, but the situation is so fluid, it remains to be seen if that date will stick. Those classes have not been filled yet, so if they are able to hold them, interviewing will be held in April, May, or June. An application window is currently open for Southwest Airlines through March 10.

Though this news may seem grim, DO NOT DESPAIR. This is a temporary situation. The number of pilots reaching the mandatory age 65 retirement continues to increase. The Max will eventually be cleared to fly again; the Coronavirus will pass; and travel will pick back up. This is a temporary setback for everyone – the pilots who were most competitive before the slowdown will likely still be the most competitive once hiring picks back up, so you won’t be getting “leapfrogged” waiting for an interview.

Pilots who aspire to join the major airlines should take advantage of this slowdown to make sure your applications are in order, get them edited, and continue to build your hours. Contact us if you have any questions. Pilots who are soon retiring from the military may have to develop a backup plan.  As always, we are here to help your career takeoff!

We at Corporate & Career Takeoff want to extend our condolences to those directly and indirectly affected by the virus.